Swipe This!” is an advice column about how to navigate human relationships and connections in an age when we depend so heavily on technology. Have a question? Email email@example.com.
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Dear Swipe This!
A couple of years ago, an ex who I had always thought of as a good friend blocked me on social media. We had been in touch since our breakup and had made the mutual choice to remain friends. Sometimes the friendship was challenging, but mostly it was rewarding. I felt like he was someone who really knew me and we supported each other even though we realized we weren’t the right fit romantically anymore.
Then, out of nowhere, he blocked me on Facebook. Then on Twitter. Then on Instagram. He even blocked me on LinkedIn! (What kind of weirdo blocks people on LinkedIn?!)
I felt sad that he was throwing away our friendship, which was a lot of emotional work to create. And I felt confused. We hadn’t fought or even had a ton of recent contact.
So I called him and confronted him and he apologized. But he said that he’d promised his new girlfriend that he would no longer be in touch with me. I was super frustrated because I was in my own committed relationship and my partner would never ask this of me. The whole thing felt nuts. I cried and asked him if this was forever, and he said he believed it was.
Since then, time and space have helped me to let this go. I’ve also been happy in my own relationship and got married last year. But I guess deep down, I still feel betrayed and let down.
A few weeks ago, I heard via friends that my ex had married his girlfriend. I couldn’t see his Instagram account, but I could see the wedding hashtag, so I took a scroll (I guess out of morbid curiosity?). At first, I was like, OK, this wedding was lame. I made fun of it with my friends and laughed about the decorations and the bride’s dress and the music choices and even the venue. But then I started having all these sinking thoughts like what if my wedding wasn’t as good as his? I also am starting to feel confused all over again about why he would cut me out of his life. It feels really mean and unfair to me.
I’m not planning on reaching out to him, but how do I truly let this go? How do you get closure when someone has cut you out?
Blocked and Betrayed
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Dear Blocked and Betrayed,
I often have to remind my readers that Instagram is not reality. It’s a highly curated version of our lives that we project into the world for others to see. It’s not representative of how we actually feel or even how we really live. At best, all we can discern from someone’s Instagram is how they would like to be seen.
Is someone posting tons of photos of their recent vacation? Well, possibly they had a good time, but more than likely they want to be viewed as adventurous or, if the sites are ritzy, as glamorous and worldly. Does someone constantly post selfies with their sweetheart? They want to be seen as loved and lovable. Do you have a friend who is posting photos of themselves in exclusive places or meeting important people? They want to be seen as a high-status achiever.
However, at the root of what we want others to see in us is usually the thing we believe we lack.
Weddings are like real-life Instagram feeds. Everyone puts on something sleek or sparkly, filters their face and hair through the magic of makeup and styling wands, and exchanges exhaustive compliments against the backdrop of a carefully selected venue. I don’t know a single person in my life, married or not, who hasn’t stressed about getting an outfit or a toast or a gift “just right” for a wedding. And if you’re one of the people getting married, that perfectionistic impulse ramps up times 100.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to some weddings that were fun as hell. And I am not one to turn down an excuse to eat cake and dance and shower people with love. These are all great traditions! But very frequently, weddings are pressure cookers of stress and anxiety and I’d be lying if I told you that I’ve ever looked at a picture-perfect wedding and thought that it wasn’t a big fat lie.
Life is colorful and messy, so why are weddings so pristine and white? Why do we airbrush out family drama and catering disasters and financial stress, and instead grin and pretend things are super duper swell? Whether we’re the bride or the groom or the sister or the guest, many of us fuss and fret and imagine that, if for one day everything goes perfectly, we and the people we love will transcend all the mess and grime and puss-filled-hot-pimple stress and emerge miraculously, deliriously happy.
Your ex’s wedding may have been a blast or it may have been a real dud. But I’m guessing your morbid curiosity wasn’t really about the flowers they chose or the seating arrangements. I’m guessing you needed to find flaws and poke holes and laugh at their choices because you find some comfort in knowing that his life is messy, too. After all, you were behind the scenes of your own big day so you know the truth—you know exactly what sucked and what made you smile. All you can see of his is what people who attended wanted to add to their own curated version of their lives. If you’re looking for answers about his wedding you can count on two things: It definitely sucked and it definitely made him smile.
Which brings me back to your lost friendship. I am sure it hurt terribly to be blocked by someone you held so dear. You say you put a lot of emotional effort into creating a friendship and I’m sure you did. Close friendships require lots of patience and care, and even greater compassion when they’re with someone who may have hurt you or may not have been able to offer you the kind of love you wanted to receive. Some people make it a policy to cut their exes out of their lives completely, and I see the value in cutting ties to speed up the healing process or to get away from someone who really was a toxic presence.
But I think there’s also real value in the kind of work you allude to doing to maintain that friendship. You had to make yourself very vulnerable to keep your heart open to someone who would no longer be your romantic partner. Even though the relationship had ended, you offered him love without expectations. Some people would judge this and say that’s foolish. But I don’t think it’s foolish to tell someone, “I value you and I’m here for you no matter what.” Friendship demands us to be selfless and generous, and for that reason, it can be very demanding, but it can also be deeply rewarding.
When we find someone who can offer us mutual compassion and support, it’s a beautiful thing. I bet you worked hard at this friendship, and I’m confident that once it solidified, you found a deep sense of safety in knowing that someone who had loved and desired you still valued you beyond any promises of sex or partnership. I’m so sorry you lost that safe space for friendship.
One thing that stood out to me, though, is that you compare not only his wedding to yours but his partner’s needs to your partner’s. I am glad that you have a partner who respects your autonomy and would never make ultimatums about who you can and cannot maintain contact with. But your partner is not his partner and she is in no way obligated to see things your way. If they were at a point in their relationship where they were considering spending the rest of their life together, I can understand how he might make a choice that seems unreasonable to you. The fact is, he is with someone who he wants to navigate the rest of his life with as a team. So he is going to make some choices that don’t necessarily reflect what he wants but rather what works best for them as a couple. And in a couple where one person has very rigid boundaries, often the person with the looser boundaries has to yield. That doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t make it fair, but it does make it a choice that has been chosen and isn’t going away no matter how many hashtags you unearth or how many loopholes you discover for tracing tagged photos.
I wonder if you would find comfort in looking at being blocked not as a rejection of you but as evidence of your significance. You must have come up in conversation frequently, and I am sure somewhere along the way, he acknowledged how important you were to him. So for a partner who may not be so secure in her own worth, that must have been a tough pill to swallow.
You’ve looked at all the ways you’re different from your ex and his new partner, but I wonder if you’d gain more by looking at the ways in which you are the same. All three of you have recently taken the plunge into the scary waters of marriage and I bet all three of you have felt love and excitement, as well as fear and doubts about your future, or even your worth. There may have been times when your ex has been terrified and misses his friend just as much, if not more, than you’ve missed him. And there may have been times when his partner fears that she too could be erased or discarded. The fact is, loving people deeply makes us vulnerable to loss. And if weddings were honest, there would probably be a lot more toasts where people say, “I’m scared shitless, aren’t you?”
Our fears often lead us into a strange dance. We step back or look away, afraid that if we really face it head-on, all our fear will consume us. But the fact is, the only way out is through. When we face our fears fully and speak them aloud, they become less powerful. They go limp in our arms and suddenly we’re leading this waltz.
You have been brave enough to face your fears already. You did it when you mourned your romance, when you embraced a friendship, and now you’ll face fears again as you let go once more of this connection that made you feel so safe. I bet discovering you were still attached, still clinging to this friendship has shaken you. And letting go all over again is scary as hell. But I hope you will take your fear by the hand and dance through the mess of this next chapter of your life. It probably won’t be pristine white and there may be many moments that aren’t Instagram-worthy, but if you face your life with your eyes open, I can guarantee you it’s going to suck—but it will also make you smile.